August 20, 2004,
Thanks to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Senator John Kerry's Vietnam sojourn faces fresh scrutiny. Kerry can easily answer their claims that he has exaggerated or falsified details of his four months in combat: He should sign the Pentagon's Standard Form 180 to assure that his military records are fully public. Total transparency would help voters decide if Kerry should become commander-in-chief.
In a May 4 open letter, just under 200 of Kerry's fellow Swift Boat veterans urged him to instruct the Navy to release his "complete and unaltered" military records. "We believe that you have withheld and/or distorted material facts as to your own conduct in this war," read the letter, signed by Democrats, Republicans, and independents. "Permit the American public the opportunity to assess your military performance upon the record, and not upon campaign rhetoric."
Regnery's best-selling book, Unfit for Command, by John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi, identifies several mysteries that Kerry's unabridged military documents could solve. Among them:
Dr. Louis Letson used tweezers to pull a splinter of shrapnel from Kerry's left arm on December 3, 1968. The next day, with a Band-Aid upon his elbow, Kerry applied for a Purple Heart.
"The scratch didn't look like much to me; I've seen worse injuries from a rose thorn," Commander Grant Hibbard says in Unfit for Command. "Kerry didn't get my signature. I said 'no way' and told him to get out of my office."
How did Kerry score a Purple Heart after Hibbard's rejection? The paperwork that could explain this anomaly, the Swiftees say, contains gaps.
Did Kerry willfully venture five miles into Cambodia that December 24, as he claimed for decades; carelessly straddle the "watery borders between Vietnam and Cambodia," as Kerry's campaign suggested last August 11; or merely relax 50 miles away in Sa Dec, South Vietnam, as his contemporaneous journal indicates? "No snow, no sleighs, no fat jolly Santa Claus with frosted lips," Kerry wrote home that evening. "It's Christmas Eve." Records could settle this.
Kerry won a Silver Star for a February 28, 1969, mission in which his supporters say he led an attack on a Viet Cong stronghold and, according to his commendation, neutralized a "numerically superior force in the face of intense fire." Swiftees say he followed another boat's lead and merely shot a single, wounded Viet Cong guerrilla in the back. O'Neill and Corsi write that the actual after-action report that could resolve this dispute is not among the documents on Kerry's website.
For its part, Kerry-Edwards says it has been open. "We had requested the entire military record from the U.S. Navy, and we took those records and put them on the World Wide Web at johnkerry.com," spokesman Chad Clanton insists by phone.
Clanton's statement may be perfectly valid, but how can anyone know for sure, any more than Americans can be perfectly confident about President Bush's also reputedly public service records? An SF 180 autographed by John Kerry indisputably will show that the Navy has disgorged itself of every paper bearing his name. The SF 180 also could free anything still lodged among the Pentagon's papers that a less formal "request" might have missed. What's good for the donkey is good for the elephant: Bush should sign an SF 180, too.
The SF 180 can be downloaded at www.vetrecs.archives.gov or faxed on demand via 301-837-0990 (request document 2255). Concerned Americans can generate SF 180s and personally hand them to Senator Kerry as he campaigns. This will give him multiple opportunities to bring a verifiable measure of openness to this issue.
The fog of war and clouded memories both raise questions about who may be right on these matters, although many more Swiftees contradict rather than confirm Kerry's accounts. It also could be, as Rashomon teaches cinematically, that the same event viewed by different people from various angles can yield sincere but conflicting recollections.
There is a straightforward way to judge whether Kerry is correct, forgetful, or a talented teller of tall tales. John Kerry himself can answer many of these questions by signing Standard Form 180 to demonstrate that his whole record is open and untouched. As August's bright days prove, sunshine is the best disinfectant.